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Introducing Head Start: Our Mission Statement

No Language Playbook would be complete without a mission statement. As an organization engaged in the important, and ever-changing, conversation around early childhood education and development, Head Start’s mission statement needs to anchor and guide our strategy for what we want to accomplish in the future.

Mission statements can say a lot with a few words. For Head Start, it’s our way of showing what makes us stand out, and getting straight to the heart of our passion and vision.

“Our program is working to strengthen parent engagement, and the Playbook is a useful tool for promoting conversations. It also helps to have a clear mission statement and tips for clarifying misconceptions, like that Head Start is just daycare.”

–Alessandra Angarita, East Side House Settlement Head Start, New York

When you need to introduce Head Start in a sentence:

Head Start gives children from at-risk backgrounds

Defines who we help using words that inspire action: when children are at risk, we are called to support them

the skills they need

Signals that we’re delivering results: after participating in Head Start, children leave with critical skills

to be successful in school and life

Shows we’re helping prepare Head Start children for kindergarten and beyond

–partnering with millions of children, families, and communities

Speaks to our comprehensive model

on their paths to success.

Sums up our mission in visual, vivid language

children from at-risk backgrounds
Defines who we help using words that inspire action: when children are at risk, we are called to support them
skills they need
Signals that we’re delivering results: after participating in Head Start, children leave with critical skills
school and life
Shows we’re helping prepare Head Start children for kindergarten and beyond
children, families, and communities
Speaks to our comprehensive model
paths to success.
Sums up our mission in visual, vivid language

A Closer Look At The Mission Statement

There will also be opportunities to introduce who we are and what we do in a bit more detail. Below is some language to keep in mind in those situations.

Head Start is a comprehensive early education program

Spells out exactly what we deliver, and combats the idea that Head Start is “daycare”

for children from at-risk backgrounds from birth to age 5.

Expands the population of children we serve, and connects to the importance of early brain development

From early math and reading skills to confidence and resilence,

Defines our approach to readiness—developing skills for school and for life

we help children build the abilities they need to be successful in school and life. Each Head Start program engages parents as partners with their child's teacher

Illustrates our comprehensive approach and raises awareness of the breadth of what we do

and works closely with the local community to adapt

Nods to how we constantly learn and innovate

to what each area needs. Every child has the ability to succeed

Expresses our social justice mission in language everyone can get on board with

and together, we’re partnering with millions of children, families, and communities on their path to success.
comprehensive early education program
Spells out exactly what we deliver, and combats the idea that Head Start is “daycare”
from birth to age 5.
Expands the population of children we serve, and connects to the importance of early brain development
early math and reading skills to confidence and resilence,
Defines our approach to readiness—developing skills for school and for life
engages parents as partners with their child's teacher
Illustrates our comprehensive approach and raises awareness of the breadth of what we do
works closely with the local community to adapt
Nods to how we constantly learn and innovate
Every child has the ability to succeed
Expresses our social justice mission in language everyone can get on board with

Findings Snapshot

What We Heard in the Spring 2018 Messaging Research

In our language research, we tested several potential descriptors for the people Head Start serves, including “at-risk children” and “children at risk of being left behind. “However, we heard during discussions that practitioners were sensitive to any language that unfairly labeled the children themselves, rather than their life circumstances, which is why we recommend saying “children from at-risk backgrounds.”

“We are really concerned about labeling lower income families. We don’t want those kids to be labeled because it’s not in their control.”

–Head Start Practitioner

One exception to this rule is when we are speaking directly to Head Start families or potential families. Then, it’s best to stick to language like “eligible families” or “qualifying families.” For more on this, see Tailoring Our Message in Section 3.

A Note On Metaphors

Some metaphors are stronger than others. We don’t want to sound paternalistic, or use language that could potentially alienate key audiences we need support from.

If you say... Here's the issue Instead say..
Leveling the playing field

“I have family who would look down on that. They’d say ‘Why should my money go to benefit these other kids? I want it to benefit my own kids.’”

– Head Start Practitioner

Supporting more children, families, and communities on their path to success

More Language That Brings Our Mission To Life

A mission statement is only as good as the examples it relies on. Below are key themes and language that illustrate who we are and what we do. 

Bringing the Mission Statement to Life: Words That Work

Our comprehensive, flexible approach

  1. Every neighborhood, school, and student is unique. At Head Start, we don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all solution.
  2. Head Start offers locally-designed programs with feedback and input from parents, teachers, and the community itself.
  3. We believe in tailoring our approach based on what the community wants from us, because our solutions should be as diverse as the communities we serve.

Our inclusive, supportive mindset

  1. At Head Start, we’re committed not just to the children we teach, but to their parents too.
  2. We help families address their immediate needs while giving them support as they plan for future goals.

Our focus on the “whole child”

  1. Today we have so much data about the importance of early childhood development, like the fact that more than 90% of a child’s brain develops from birth to age 4.
  2. We know that students need healthy brains to learn, and if we don’t help address difficult circumstances early in their lives, the impact on their educational outcomes later on is staggering.
  3. We rely on a “whole child” approach, which means helping our students develop socially, intellectually, and emotionally.
  4. Head Start offers safe and nurturing spaces for them to learn.
  5. We put promising ideas in front of children at the time in their lives when it matters most.

Our commitment to getting better all the time

  1. Head Start is at our best when we apply an always-learning mindset.
  2. As a community, we’re always learning from each other.
  3. Our mission is to constantly innovate: to understand what’s working and what’s not, so we can support more children, families, and communities on their path to success.
  4. We also create classrooms where innovation and new approaches are encouraged. Head Start provides a variety of personalized learning experiences to help children grow and succeed academically.

Our connections to national and local partners

  1. Ensuring that every child has equal access to education can’t be done by just one organization.
  2. Even though our geographic reach puts us in a unique position to force positive change, we haven’t done it alone. We’re at our best when we engage and partner with other organizations.
  3. The future of this effort is bright, because there are many helping hands and many voices working to push every student forward.

Our future, rather than our past

  1. Head Start has been serving communities in need for over fifty years. We’re proud of our heritage and of all the things we’ve learned. But as we look forward, our calling is clear: how do we continue improving, and find new ways to help children and their families across the nation?

A Note On Our
Comprehensive Approach

Whenever we can, we should highlight the services we offer to both children and parents. For children enrolled in Head Start programs, we help facilitate critical health services like immunizations, and vision, dental, and hearing screenings.

For parents, we offer job training opportunities, and share information with them about important child development milestones, so they learn more ways to create encouraging home environments and enhance their relationships with their children.